The Risks of Living a Sedentary Lifestyle (and how you could avoid it)

Sedentary behaviour is associated with deleterious health outcomes (Tremblay et al., 2010). There is a field called 'inactivity physiology' that aims to understand the health consequences of modern lifestyles. Current common practice involves a tremendously alarming number of hours of muscular inactivity while sitting. Disease risks are associated with prolonged hours of sitting idle, averaging 10 hours a day or 70 hours a week.

Listed are some disease risks attributed to living a sedentary lifestyle:

 

#1: Type 2 Diabetes and Poor Metabolism

 

It isn't just the lack of exercise that can be a problem—the amount of time you spend sitting, even if you build exercise into your daily routine, can increase your Type 2 Diabetes risk (Iliades, 2013). Researchers observed that even if people exercised regularly, they were still at a higher risk for diabetes if they sat for more than four hours a day. It was explicitly mentioned that "even if you get 30 minutes of exercise every day, you are still at risk if you sit for more than four hours."

The time people spend sitting inactive may have significant physiological consequences dangerous to human health, including poor metabolism of lipids and glucose (Hamilton et al., 2014). At this point, you might begin to ask the question, why? Why does prolonged sitting make for a risk factor when it comes to diabetes and chronic diseases? Illiades (2013) claimed that your body needs to work harder to absorb sugar and make insulin when sedentary. This can put too much stress on the cells that produce insulin, which can be an important diabetes risk factor.

#2: Obesity and Weight Gain

A study published by Martínez-González et al. in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that obesity and being overweight are strongly associated with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity. It is also well-established that increasing physical activity plays an important role in reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes (Hu, 2003). 

Despite this, however, the social norm for people has become to move less and sit more. Most people have been compelled to sit virtually everywhere: at home, in school, in public transit, and at work. Physical inactivity is closely associated with metabolic disorders such as impaired glucose and metabolisms.

In connection to having an unhealthy body mass index (BMI), a substantial proportion of these people are also at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Indeed, the consequences of living a sedentary lifestyle produce a deleterious domino effect.

#3: Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association released a Science Advisory highlighting the detrimental association between having a sedentary lifestyle and cardiovascular disease morbidity. According to a study published by Blair (2019), sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity are among the leading modifiable risk factors worldwide for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. Cardiorespiratory fitness is needed in all age groups, races, and ethnicities. Less active and less fit persons have a 30%-50% greater risk of developing high blood pressure. As a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, physical inactivity actually ranks similar to cigarette smoking and elevated cholesterol.

All three major risks sound absolutely bone-chilling. Hence, lifestyle changes should undoubtedly be considered to prevent different diseases. Although, today, this article is written not with the intention to frighten you. In fact, it's quite the opposite, really. I wish to share a simple secret that may change the way you perceive the concept of inactivity. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine was distinct from exercise physiology. Exercise physiology had traditionally focused on moderate-vigorous physical activity, known to many as MVPA, performed during a small part of the week—somewhere around 20 minutes per day or 150 minutes each week. You could agree that the prescription of exercise or MVPA can feel too exhausting and tedious to accomplish.

For this reason, there is a need to carefully understand how a very high duration of low-intensity physical activity throughout the day will accumulate to dozens of hours per week and replace large amounts of sedentary time. As cited in Iliades (2013), Rosenkranz said, "All you need to do to reduce the risk of prolonged inactivity is to stand up and walk slowly. You don't need exercise, just some increased activity."

 

Like was mentioned, mitigating disease risks need not be too complex. To address the root of the problem, there needs to be a lifestyle change—one that you can see yourself sticking to long-term. A straightforward and sustainable first step would be to invest in a standing desk. A standing desk gives you the option to stand during some parts of your day to leverage the benefits of standing while you work.

A common misconception that people have is that having a standing desk means being compelled to stand for the entire day. No, it isn't true at all! Standing desks go from a sitting height to a standing height with an easy crank of a lever or push of a button. 

Essentially, standing desks have the capacity to adjust to your needs. Even their widths are adjustable to fit a range of desktops. It can also be quite handy to know that their laminate tops ensure durability and water resistance. To drive more benefits to your standing routine, you may opt to add a few stretches. If you feel like you can go the extra mile, why not take a brisk walk or even just try to walk up and down the stairs nearest (or furthest) to you!

While leading a sedentary lifestyle is not uncommon, it is high time that everyone recognizes the consequences that are caused by physical inactivity. As early as today, make the conscious decision to incorporate more movement in your daily agendas. Light to moderate activity plays an integral role in mitigating various disease risks.

References

Blair, S. N., Lemes, Í. R., Sui, X., Turi-Lynch, B. C., Lee, D. C., Fernandes, R. A., ... & Monteiro, H. L. (2019). Sedentary behaviour is associated with diabetes mellitus in adults: findings of a cross-sectional analysis from the Brazilian National Health System. Journal of Public Health, 41(4), 742-749.

Chen, S. M., Liu, M. F., Cook, J., Bass, S., & Lo, S. K. (2009). Sedentary lifestyle as a risk factor for low back pain: a systematic review. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 82(7), 797-806.

Hamilton, M. T., Hamilton, D. G., & Zderic, T. W. (2014). Sedentary behaviour as a mediator of type 2 diabetes. Medicine and sport science, 60, 11–26. https://doi.org/10.1159/000357332

Hu, F. B. (2003). Sedentary lifestyle and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Lipids, 38(2), 103-108.

Iliades, C. (2013, November 12). Don't just sit there: Sedentary lifestyle increases type 2 diabetes risk. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/living-with/sedentary-lifestyle-increases-type-2-diabetes-risk/

Lakka, T. A., Laaksonen, D. E., Lakka, H. M., Männikkö, N. I. K. O., Niskanen, L. K., Rauramma, R., & Salonen, J. T. (2003). Sedentary lifestyle, poor cardiorespiratory fitness, and the metabolic syndrome. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

León-Latre, M., Moreno-Franco, B., Andrés-Esteban, E. M., Ledesma, M., Laclaustra, M., Alcalde, V., ... & Casasnovas, J. A. (2014). Sedentary lifestyle and its relation to cardiovascular risk factors, insulin resistance and inflammatory profile. Revista Española de Cardiología (English Edition), 67(6), 449-455.

Martínez-González, M. Á., Martinez, J. A., Hu, F. B., Gibney, M. J., & Kearney, J. (1999). Physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyle and obesity in the European Union. International journal of obesity, 23(11), 1192-1201.

Tremblay, M. S., Colley, R. C., Saunders, T. J., Healy, G. N., & Owen, N. (2010). Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 35(6), 725-740.